Sydney Swans chief executive Tom Harley is taking on a new initiative to raise awareness of mental health by partaking in the CEO Skydive on April 30, alongside many other chief executives.
Through his time at Sydney, Harley has worked with the Black Dog Institute, a major partner of the club.
Harley spoke to The Inner Sanctum about his relationship with the organisation.
“Black Dog has been around for a few years now, and they do some fantastic work, in the field of mental health.” he said.
“Certainly, in the field of professional sport, it’s become quite a [prevalent] topic.
“We’re really proud to partner at the Sydney Swans with Black Dog.
“It’s one of our committee partners, our players are actively involved in their programs.
“And the approach was made to me to get involved with raising awareness, and I was only more than pleased to do so.”
For Harley, it’s a two-step process, as he explained.
“There’s been two parts to it, really. It’s about raising awareness, and encouraging people to have conversations and check in, and be aware of the prevalence of mental health that’s the first part, and the second part is to be raising funds for the Black Dog Institute,” he said.
Harley said the responses have been incredibly positive.
“I started to post on my LinkedIn channels and the Swans’ LinkedIn channels, and the response has been really great,” he said.
“[I’ve gotten] direct messages from people who have been really encouraged that the club and myself are willing to have the right conversations.
“So, I’m looking forward to raising as much money as I can prior to the jump on April 30.”
As prevalent as it is now, mental health awareness was not on the radar back in Harley’s playing days.
“If you wind the clock back some 15 years I remember when Nathan Thompson who was playing with the Kangaroos at the time, was talking about his mental health challenges, and that was quite a taboo topic at that stage,” he said.
“Not only was it not spoken about, it wasn’t even really a thing.
“It was you know, depression, anxiety, all those things were confined to parodies about mental institutions.
“And if you suffer from mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, it was seen as a weakness.
It was some high-profile cases that got attention to the issue, as Harley recalled.
“Nathan Thompson, I mentioned before, and Wayne Schwass has also been a very strong advocate for, for mental health through the AFL circles,” he said.
“Slowly the wheels [started to] turn.”
The recent Spud’s game, held between St Kilda and Melbourne in round 2 of this season, is just one of the initiatives that shows how far things have come, Harley said.
“I was watching that game on the TV and watching the build-up on the TV,” he said.
“Gary Lyon and Stuey [Stewart] Loewe spoke to the two playing groups, but then obviously [It got] broadcast to a broader audience.
“That was really powerful and really compelling, and I absolutely applaud the St Kilda and the Melbourne Footy Clubs for that initiative.
“The more outwardly and publicly clubs are seen to be talking and promoting mental health is a positive thing, and I hope we can see more of that going forward.”
The unique nature of the event is certainly not lost on Harley, and he admits he’s never jumped out of a plane before.
But, as he said, these challenges can’t compare to what people with mental health challenges have to deal with.
“If I can overcome some of those challenges, they’re very minor compared to what some people are going through, in a lot of cases going through in silence,” he said.
“So, if I can play a small role in encouraging those conversations, the right support networks, the right professional support networks, raise some money, that’s certainly enough for me to take the plunge.”
As for what we can all do to help, Harley had some simple, but important advice.
“Check in,” he said.
“Check in with your family, check in with your friends.
“Have your radar up for signs that suggest someone’s doing it a bit tough.
“I think it is [also] leaning into the fact that it is not a weakness, it’s prevalent, and there are support measures around.
“[and] I think it’s a key part of these institutions like Black Dog.
“They provide those resources, those tools to help, you know people going through mental health challenges, but also for people who are wondering where to go and what to do.
“It’s a journey, but it’s not going to go away so the more education and aware we can provide, the better we’re going to be.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t go it alone. Please reach out for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Beyond Blue’s coronavirus support service: 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au